by Beth Moller
The University of Northwestern – St. Paul baseball team is gearing up for their annual spring training trip to Florida. The team will fly out on the first day of spring break, March 8, and spend the next week and a half enjoying the sun while preparing for their conference season. Head baseball coach Dave Hieb said, “We’ve been going on this trip to the same place in Florida for 22 years.” The trip consists of training and games as well as two off-days. On the off-days, the baseball players have the opportunity to visit the beach or attend Major League Baseball spring training games.
The trip offers players a unique chance to bond without the distractions of classmates, homework and stress of school. Hieb explained, “The best part of the trip is the team bonding. We’re able to break away for almost a week and a half. It helps the team bond by teaching them to communicate. It is also away from everyone and takes away the stress of college classes. It’s warm, and they’re taken care of and get to hang out. It’s like major league spring training for eight or nine days.”
Captain Nathan Ehnstrom, a senior from Aitkin, Minnesota, is one of the few returning players on the baseball team, and he will play shortstop and pitch for the Eagles this season. He enjoys the opportunity to bond with teammates while playing ball during the trip. “It’s spring training but it counts in the actual record,” he explained. “Everyone gets a chance to play, and we have team meals and get to go to the beach. It’s a lot of fun.”
As the team approaches the start to their season and their spring break trip, they are still assessing their strengths and weaknesses. “We’re still learning about our strengths,” said Hieb. “We have a lot of guys who compete well which always gives us a shot. Our weakness could be our youth. We only have two seniors so we’re still learning a lot about ourselves, and we’re a very young team.”
As a captain, Ehnstrom is a leader on the team. “I try to keep a positive attitude and get involved in the younger guys’ lives,” he explained. Although the team is young, they are determined and competitive. Ehnstrom added, “We’re hard-working and preparing to give our best effort every game.”
Despite the challenges of having a young team, the Eagles have several key returning players including Ehnstrom, Aaron Krahn, Bradley Spencer, Carter Michaelson and Cedric Cavazos to look to for guidance and leadership. The team also has many talented underclassmen who will get a chance to prove their skills during the spring training trip. These players include Wyatt Morrell, Caleb Piersma, Andrew Simonson, Chad Wakavayashi and Carlton Lindow.
Hieb enjoys the trip to Florida because it gives players the chance to step up to the plate and prove themselves. This often leads to unexpected players earning the right to more playing time. Hieb explained, “Usually someone surprises us. I look forward to seeing who that player or players are. I have an idea in mind going into the trip about who will get more playing time, but [the trip to] Florida helps players emerge. Someone usually gets the chance and explodes.” Hieb added that one year when their starting center fielder got hurt on the first day of baseball in Florida, another player, Neil Johnson, stepped in and filled the hole. “Neil stepped in as a freshman and solidified center field. He ended up playing that position all four years he was here.” The team now has an award named in his honor that is presented at the end of season banquet each year.
As the team prepares to leave for Florida, they are working out three days each week in the Ericksen Center gym and two days a week at a dome in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota. “We’re doing a lot of conditioning and discipline work and getting in shape,” Ehnstrom said.
“We’re spending a lot of time hitting, fielding and just spending time together building the team,” Hieb added. The team will continue preparing for their spring training trip before flying to Florida to get their season underway and find out who their impact players are going to be this season. The team’s first home game is March 23.